"Nearly every broadcaster in the industry has called him for advice, references, recommendations . . ." said Vincent T. Wasilewski, president of the National Association of Broadcasters. "I guess the one attribute he's known for is his dedication to the First Amendment -- keeping government out of programming."
Wasilewski was referring to Sol Taishoff, and he wasn't the only communications leader who spoke, almost reverentially, of the founder, editor and publisher of Broadcasting magazine, the industry bible. Nothing but accolades filled the large ballroom of the Washington Hilton last night, where more than 1,000 guests, including the business' top names, gathered to pay tribute to the 50th anniversary of the trade journal and its creator.
"He's also known," said Wasilewski, "for finishing 14 martinis in a single sitting, and setting the record at the National Press Club."
Taishoff, who celebrated his 77th birthday this week, was born in Minsk, Russia, and came to Washington when he was 2 1/2 years old. He started his career as a copy boy with the Associated Press, and since he began Broadcasting in 1931 he has established a reputation such that virtually no one in the field moves without his council. "When I sit with him, he's always right," said Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America. "I never interrupt; I never disagree. That's how I treat Mr. Taishoff."
Taishoff seemed to handle the tribute with ample modesty. "I'm just a reporter," he told the crowd that included, he said, three dozen of his relatives. "There's no more honorable an estate than that of a reporter, whether stained by ink or electrons."
Members of the Federal Communications Commission, including its chairman, Mark S. Fowler, came to bow their antennas. Even astrologer Jeane Dixon recalled her own prediction for her old friend. "I told Sol years ago that one day he'd be honored like this."
Reid G. Chapman, president of the Broadcast Pioneers, the evening's sponsor, called Taishoff "a leader of the electronic medium" and a "champion of free enterprise." Taishoff, though known for his pro-broadcasters leanings, was praised for keeping his opinions on the magazine's editorial pages. "Sol is always taken as the opponent of public TV," noted PBS President Lawrence Grossman. "Yet he has never demonstrated that in any of his news stories."
Among the network executives were Leonard H. Goldenson, chairman and chief executive officer of ABC; Thornton F. Bradshaw, head of RCA, NBC's parent company; William Small, president of NBC News; Grant Tinker, chairman and chief executive officer of NBC; and Gene F. Jankowski, president of the CBS/Broadcast Group.. Even the White House extended a friendly hand, though in this case Taishoff might not have disapproved of the government intervention. Reagan made a videotaped appearance, viewed from two large screens at either end of the room.
"Sorry I can't be there in person," President Reagan told his former colleague, whose pages reported in 1937 of the young announcer's resignation from radio to join Warner Bros. Studios.
"This is Dutch Reagan, WHO -- Des Moines. Goodnight."